Judges prepare for drug court changes

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Judges prepare for drug court changes By Karen White / Senior Times Writer May 20 2001 SANTA MARIA — Santa Maria’s Superior Court judges will play a game of musical chairs starting July 1, shifting positions to meet the anticipated hearing caseload because of voter approval of Proposition 36. Approved in November 2000, Prop. 36 requires probation and drug treatment programs, not incarceration, for persons convicted of possession, transportation for personal use or being under the influence of a controlled substance and similar parole violations. This does not include persons convicted of sales or manufacture of drugs. The drugs, probation and treatment program as the initiative statute was called, will increase the time needed by judges to administer new programs, explained Rodney Melville, presiding judge for the North County courts “The concept (of Prop. 36) is good,” Melville said. “The concern is the availability of quality rehabilitation and educational programs.” Without this, the diversion is useless, he said. And the proper programs cost money. The local court, with five years experience with the present drug court program, knows what works. However, the judges are concerned that the success of drug court can be retained on a much broader scale, Melville said. Several of Santa Maria’s judges will shift offices, Melville said. Melville and the other two superior court judges assigned to civil cases, James Jennings and Zel Canter, will remain in their present location. Judge Barbara Beck, who has pioneered the drug court program for the last five years, will move out of town, taking over the North County Juvenile Court, off West Foster Road and California Boulevard. A new judge’s chambers is being built there, Melville added. Beck will be in charge of cases involving delinquent children, dependent children, and both the juvenile drug courts for Santa Maria and Lompoc. Judge Rogelio Flores will handle all the drug offenses, moving from his post as arraignment judge. In addition, he will move into Beck’s courtroom and office. In addition, Flores will handle his ongoing assignment of adjudicating domestic violence cases. Commissioner Art Garcia will take over the arraignment court, moving into Flores’ chambers. Melville said he has served the last five years in juvenile affairs. Commissioner James Iwasko will continue to handle the family court, also known as the support division. Judges Timothy Staffel, Rick Brown and Diana Hall will continue to handle the regular criminal trial court. Hall also will handle the alcohol court. In Lompoc, the long-time Superior Court Judge at that court, Eugene Huseman, has retired. However, he continues to serve a variety of business coming through that court, including civil, arraignments and preliminary hearings. Major felonies then come to Santa Maria, Melville said. Several qualified persons have applied for the Lompoc judgeship. It will be up to Governor Gray Davis to appoint the new judge. :nav Source: http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2001/05/20/news/export2425.txt

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